Tribute to Willena Joyce from her daughter, Sabrina:
I don't remember much about the little house in Texas that we lived in; it was nothing more than just a roof over our heads, really. The yard was bare, the dust swirled in the breeze, but you tried your best to keep our little house clean despite tiny toes that carried dirt onto the floors. Inside our dwelling, boxes of things that didn't fit guarded a path to our most favorite place of all—the sacred rocking chair. That's what I remember most—the wooden rocking chair. It couldn't have been lovelier in our minds if it were in a palace.
You rested there with your long dark hair flowing around your shoulders, beckoning Matt and me to come sit in your lap. You gently lifted us up and cuddled us in your arms. The creaking rocker provided the rhythm to your songs as you serenaded us to sleep. "The ants go marching one by one…" you sang softly and methodically, being careful not to stir us as the ants marched us into our dreams.
I still remember that song and the many others you sang. Their melodies warm my heart, and I feel safe and loved all over again, just as I did then. Those feelings, however, don't come from the lyrics or the melodies themselves, but from the mother who sang them—a mother who wanted to love me, a mother who gave up her life for us children—everything she had—and left in me a legacy of courage and hope, sacrifice, and a deep, passionate love for Christ.
Growing up in Arkansas, Neeley Street wasn't the nicest of neighborhoods, and with the kinds of kids that lived on or around our street, Matt and I weren't always influenced for the best of society. I'm sure there were people at school that felt sorry for us "poor" kids. It's true that money wasn't always in the bank. But I didn't feel sorry for us at all. I felt rich with a loving family and a spiritual heritage.
You were well aware that we had no money, but you never allowed us to use "no money" as an excuse to be nothing. You used to say, "You can be whatever you set your mind to be." When I wanted to be a tap dancer, you encouraged me to dance. When I wanted to be a singer, you did everything in your power to assist me, even sign me up for contests, pay for my dresses in the school choir, come to every performance. When I wanted to be a painter, you said, "Paint!" And told me how lovely each attempt was. I never heard a discouraging word from you. I never even heard, "We can't afford that," even when we couldn't. You always said, "We'll find a way."
You were the one that taught me to look at the world as an open pathway that leads to great places if only I will take the steps. You were the one that made me believe that a poor little girl with buckteeth and skinned knees was just as good as a rich little girl with ribbons in her hair.
You believed and supported my dreams, but it wasn't without sacrifice. We kids never went without anything—no matter what the cost was for you. When other moms spent their money on clothes and jewelry, you saved yours so we could have letter jackets and class rings and braces for our teeth. I may not have told you as a teenager, but it meant the world to me that you cared enough to do that, even though I knew it was too much for our family.
The most amazing part about your sacrifice, though, was the fact that you didn't resent it, but you reveled in it. You were happy to serve, to give, to selflessly take part in our lives and enjoy our happiness as we enjoyed the gifts. If we were happy, you were happy.
You modeled that same attribute to us as we saw you interact with Daddy. Your support and encouragement in his life has been the number one influence on me as a wife. Even though there were times that you disagreed with Daddy's decisions, you always backed him up. I can remember times that you would say, "I'll talk to him and see what I can do." But you never deceived him or went behind his back. I'll never forget when a friend's mom lied for her children so their father would not know where they were. And you were completely appalled. You took that moment to teach me what it means to be a servant to your husband. You taught me about trust, honor, and putting your husband first before anyone else, even your own children.
Being a submissive wife has been an easy transition for me because of the model you have shown. Yes, you fought with Daddy, and at times you were very angry. But that's what made the reality of your submission so real. Despite your feelings, you would still support him, minister to him, and serve him. And you made that very clear to us children. "If he says no, that means no," you said, nothing able to persuade you. We learned a respect for his authority, and now I understand my calling and purpose as a wife because I've seen you live it.
Out of everything that you've taught me and shown me, the one thing I'm most grateful for is the way you brought everything in life back to the word of God. You have been my greatest Bible teacher. I have never known any other woman who uses the scripture as often and as consistently as you do. For example, when I was crying and feeling sorry for myself because no friend had called on the phone, you would remind me, "The Bible says that if you want to have friends you must show yourself friendly." I wondered to myself, "Yes, that makes sense, why don't I call?" I still feel that way sometimes—lonely, insecure, without friends—and your words come back to me. I'm inspired to reach out and be a friend to someone who may be crying for me.
You also took the time to help us memorize scripture, which has given me a greater understanding of God, helped in ministering to others, and brought comfort to my soul in times of despair more than anything else. I memorized dozens, if not hundreds of verses, through songs, Bible trivia questions, and all of the passages we learned by heart in your neighborhood Bible studies. To this day, I can still quote most of those scriptures and if not word for word, I at least know their meaning and where to find them. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." At that very tender age, you were planting seeds of the creator of the universe in my heart and exposing me to His power! And the seeds that were planted have now bore fruit, and that fruit has planted seeds in others, and on goes your spiritual legacy.
In church, you taught me to be reverent. You once said to me as I was whispering during prayer, "We are praying to the Holy Living God. You need to close your eyes, be quiet, and listen." Those words changed the way I saw prayer—it wasn't just a formality anymore, but I understood that we were in His presence, and He was actually listening.
I watched you during worship as you raised your hands in praise. The tears of thanksgiving trickled down your face, telling us children that this is a woman who has been changed by the power of a living God—a God who was calling me to be changed, too…and I was.
Mama, the influence you've had on my life is too great for words on a page. There is no possible way I would be able to write them all down. The older I get and the longer I'm married, the more I see our similarities—from the way we are emotionally moved by even the tiniest pluck on our heartstrings to our obsession to organize and unclutter. I laugh at myself each time I tell David, "There's a place for everything and everything in its place." I save pennies, just like you. I laugh at sarcastic jokes, just like you. I'm sentimental, just like you. I'm tenderhearted, just like you…I only hope that one day I will be a godly influence on my children and leave a legacy, just like you.
Thank you, Mama, for all that you have done for me so graciously and sacrificially. I am so grateful to God for giving you to me as a mother. If I had the world to offer, I could never repay you for all that you have done for me. Even as I write this, tears of thanksgiving trickle down my cheeks, leaving streams of praise for a mother like you.
With all of my love,
Copyright © 2004 by Sabrina Joyce Beasley. All rights reserved. Used with permission.